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Improving the Odds for Women and Children in the Dominican Republic

In partnership with the Elsa and Peter Soderberg Charitable Foundation, Project HOPE is strengthening quality primary health care services for women and children in the community of Los Rieles.

By Emma Schwartz

Women and children in the Dominican Republic face incredible health risks every day, and some of the highest mortality rates in the region. Nearly 20 out of every 1,000 babies won’t survive past the first 28 days of life, and 95 out of every 100,000 women won’t survive childbirth.

The health gaps are particularly desperate for mothers and children living in Los Rieles, a small rural community northwest of the country’s capital, Santo Domingo, where poverty is widespread, electricity is intermittent, and the quality of drinking water is poor.

For the most part, women in this community don’t receive any health care and must travel to find basic health services.

“While quality health services are lacking around the globe, living conditions in the Los Rieles community are especially dire,” says Jessica Millman, Executive Director of the Elsa and Peter Soderberg Foundation.

Mother and baby in the Dominican Republic
Though the Dominican Republic has made great strides to lower its infant mortality rates, major gaps in the system still exist for women living in rural communities, putting their health — and the health of their children — at risk. Photo by Misty Higgins for Project HOPE, 2018.

Thanks to the support of the Soderberg Foundation, Project HOPE is working to improve access to primary health care services for vulnerable women and children in Los Rieles and surrounding communities in La Vega.

Working in close collaboration with local health authorities, Project HOPE is converting the La Sabaneta Primary Healthcare Unit to a Specialized Primary Health Level Center focused on reproductive, maternal, neonatal, and child health, so families won’t have to travel outside of town to seek health care. We are also training doctors, nurses, and community health workers and ensuring they have the equipment and supplies they need to provide quality routine and emergency care.

“Thanks to this work, communities of Los Rieles, El Pinito, and Sabaneta will have access to services that will cover all of their possible health needs, without having to expend additional out-of-pocket money or worry about being turned away due to a lack of resources or a shortage of available health workers,” says Teresa Narvaez, Project HOPE’s Country Director in the Dominican Republic.

As part of this new work, Project HOPE will also recruit community health promoters and train them in topics like child vaccination, breastfeeding support, and family planning. A new community health committee, meanwhile, will help identify the greatest needs and promote health education.

“Improving access to quality health services for women and children is a top funding priority for the Elsa and Peter Soderberg Charitable Foundation,” Millman says. “Embedding sustainability of improvements by working in partnership with appropriate government entities is fundamental in our grant-making. The Soderberg Foundation is excited to provide funding to support clinic improvements knowing that Project HOPE’s relationship with the government will result in long-term sustainable health system improvement.”

Mother singing to baby in the Dominican Republic
Rosalía sings to her newborn baby, who rests in an incubator at the Los Mina Maternity Hospital in Santo Domingo. Project HOPE’s support has helped more babies survive the crucial first weeks of life, including Rosalía’s, who was born at 31 weeks weighing just 2 pounds. Photo by Project HOPE staff, 2019.

Protecting maternal, newborn, and child health is also a central focus for Project HOPE. Since 1996, Project HOPE’s work in the Dominican Republic has made the difference between life and death for tens of thousands of mothers and children. Over the last 20 years, we have established three maternal and child health clinics, which serve around 150,000 patients every year. In October 2019, the National Health Service reported a 31% reduction in maternal mortality and a 25% reduction in neonatal mortality, thanks to support from Project HOPE.

Now, in partnership with the Soderberg Foundation, Project HOPE will be able to continue to reduce mortality and build stronger, healthier futures for Dominican mothers and children.

“In Los Rieles, we are hoping to empower a stronger community that better understands their health and their rights — a community that has worked together to address their health concerns, turned them around, and set an example for the rest of the nation,” Narvaez says.

> Learn more about our history in the Dominican Republic

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